A recent story at CBS tells us about a woman using an e-bike to pursue one of the most hated vocations in America: porch pirating. On several occasions, she’s been spotted walking into apartment building mailrooms, snagging a bag of packages, and then riding away.
While this particular thief didn’t get into a police chase or get violent with people, it does show us some of the big advantages e-bikes have for thieves.
First off, there’s usually no license plate requires on an e-bike. This allowed her to park the bike in full view of cameras, go steal stuff, and leave. Even if police pull camera footage from other nearby cameras, there’s no way to really track her down. Within a block or two, even the most comprehensive surveillance camera network would lose a thief riding a bike within a block or two.
Another advantage is maneuverability. Even if someone were to catch a bike rider in the act and police were to get on their tails, someone on an e-bike just isn’t very easy to catch at all. Here’s an example of a guy easily evading police: (article continues after video)
As you can see, the bike can fit in a lot of places where a cop’s car just can’t fit. And, if they try to chase an e-bike rider on foot, even the fastest most fit cop on the planet just isn’t going to stand a chance. This is especially true for faster e-bikes like the Sur Ron in the video. Even in a low-traffic suburban setting, this guy was able to quickly hide behind cars and many other obstacles and not get caught.
Here’s another example of a person intentionally attracting cops and ditching one:
By being able to fit in a narrow gap at the beginning of a trail, the rider went where no police vehicle could go and then got away faster than would be possible on foot.
Another advantage to bikes over cars is that all of one’s constitutional rights still apply without any of the trackability. For example, I’ve seen a local gang of package thieves who ride around with garbage bags. When they steal anything valuable that they can trade for drugs, they bag it and then ride back to the home base. Along the way, police cannot search the bag unless they actually saw the person steal the package.
One of these gangs recently got evicted from a building they were squatting in and half of the house was full of broken down valuables, bike parts, and fentanyl. This went on for years without the police being able to really do anything about it.
I know some readers, especially from regulatory-heavy countries think the answer is to regulate the bejeezus out of e-bikes. But, I don’t really see how that would help, while I see plenty of ways it can hurt.
For example, if we required all bikes to be speed-limited to a max of 20 or 28 MPH with regular, random inspections to make sure the bikes aren’t modified, it wouldn’t help because even non-motorized bicycles are pretty damned hard to catch. Here’s one bike chase on a non-motorized bike that proves the point:
And requiring license plates? Ha! People who respect the law and wouldn’t steal things or run from the police would comply (at a cost that I’ll get into in a bit). But, the people who are a problem are another matter entirely. Suppose a cop sees a rider without a plate. Please watch all of the above videos again to see how that whole thing ends up.
What about the police buying their own Sur Rons to chase these guys down? Well, put yourself on that seat (at least in your imagination). Having done some volunteer law enforcement myself, I can confidently say that I sure as hell wouldn’t do it. These guys running from the cops are taking some serious risks to life and limb. Zipping through narrow gaps at 40 MPH? It only takes the smallest miscalculation or somebody’s lawn sprinkler leaking onto the sidewalk for that to end in a hurry.
With the fastest e-bikes, wrecking on them brings up an important question: what’s the last thing to go through your mind in a wreck? Your butt. The chance of surviving such a crash isn’t great, and the chance of ending up needing somebody else to wipe your butt for the rest of your life is high. Not only do safe pursuit laws apply, but you’re not going to get people to take that kind of risk.
So, there’s really no way to regulate or harsh the problem away. But, these kinds of regulations could make it a lot harder to get people to adopt micromobility. If the cost goes up because people now need to register a bike, fewer people will buy them. If there are onerous inspections and illegal random stops of micromobility users, people will take cars instead. So, even trying to take the harsh regulatory approach to micromobility isn’t a great idea to begin with.
When this small group of hooligans and ne’er-do-wells is compared to the rest of the riding community who don’t do illegal or dumb things, it also makes no sense to burden all of the good people for the bad actions of a few morons.
The Answer: Target The Criminal Behavior, Not The Vehicles
The fact is that nobody can get away with this kind of nonsense too many times.
Eventually, a package thief will get caught before they can get back on the bike, or they’ll pick up a bait package. Or, police will catch their fence, who will turn them in to get a plea deal. Or, the police will get a tip from someone else and get a warrant to search the stash house. Or, someone will recognize their face in camera footage.
And people who run from the cops? They’ll get away. A few times. But, it isn’t long before they run into the same problems and risks that keep cops from wanting to ride like that. It’s hard to keep running from the cops if you get a broken neck or get impaled by a street sign. Some people do escape police holds at the hospital, but that’s uncommon.
There are lots of people doing bad things in the world, but the issues of climate change and urban pollution are too important to risk them messing around with misguided public policy that could stunt the growth of some of the most viable solutions.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.